Maximum flexibility at member state level to be “able to make decisions at national level” on the shape of Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan remains a key objective for current CAP negotiations at EU level, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has said.

The council of agriculture ministers has been meeting yesterday (Wednesday, May 26) and today (Thursday, May 27) to try to agree on a final position for what the new CAP will look like after 2023 – with talks potentially extending into tomorrow.

The minister gave an update on the situation, his key objectives and what the next steps in the negotiations in an online press briefing this evening.

The situation

“It’s about the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European Commission coming together to try and agree a final plan at European level,” Minister McConalogue explained.

“Then we have to develop our national plan over the summer to be consistent with that, and have that approved by the end of the year by the commission as well as in line with obligations under the European plan.

“Three of the key issues were around eco-schemes, convergence and mandatory redistribution.

“Something else I put on the agenda as well was GAEC 2 [Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions] just to ensure there was absolute clarity around that,” he added.

The positions

“The parliament, in relation to the eco-schemes were looking – and still are – looking for 30%; on convergence they’re looking for full convergence between 27; on mandatory redistribution they’re looking for a mandatory figure.

“The Council of Ministers’ starting position on the eco-schemes was 20%; on convergence the minimum was 75%; and on mandatory redistribution a mixed view in terms of it being optional; some more pushing within the council pushing for it to be some level of mandatory.

A key approach for myself and where the council is at is in relation to having a discretion for member states and optional opt-outs there if they had significant levels of environmental output in Pillar II. That’s sort of the mix where it’s in.

Noting that there hasn’t yet been much progress in relation to the council and the parliament coming together, Minister McConalogue said that various talks have been ongoing since 10:00am yesterday.

“The council presidency has now gone to the parliament again and will probably be meeting with them to a late enough hour – and then reconvening the council later tonight for an update in terms of where we’re at,” he said.

Key objectives for minister

Commenting on his position during negotiations, the minister said:

“My key objective coming out of this week is to try and ensure we have maximum flexibility going back home in terms of being able to make these decisions at national level within our national CAP plan.

“So, to that end, I’ve been speaking to ensure we hold to the 20% as closely as possible in relation to the eco-scheme; and on convergence, seeking to keep that as low as possible to give ourselves maximum national discretion.

“The council position [on convergence] was initially 75% and that was what I was pushing for. The council presidency has moved to 85% on convergence there in the last two or three weeks; that’s where the council presidency was at. The parliament is still at 100%.”

Turning to the Complementary Redistributive Income Support Scheme (CRISS), the minister noted that discussions continue in relation to the percentage this should be, but said:

“The key objective there in terms of my own interventions – and a number of other member states as well – is to provide the flexibility at member state level…so that member states can, in their own national CAP plans, have discretion over what approach they take to that.

“In relation to the GAECs, and GAEC 2 is the one that has the most attention back home, something I’ve been very clear on from the outset, it will remain agricultural land and eligible for payment.

“I’ve also raised that here – initially at the council yesterday as well as in terms of additional language – to ensure that there’s no doubt and total clarity in relation to that matter as well.

“That’s currently in the mix between the parliament and the council as well in their discussion.”

Next steps

In terms of where things go from here, the minister predicted that discussions could “go on very late tonight, probably into the early hours of the morning”.

“There’s a very reasonable chance we’ll be back at it again tomorrow morning in a further session,” he added.

It’s very hard to make any call as to what the outcome will be; both the parliament and the council are quite wide apart still. That will depend on the next number of hours in terms of engagement that happens between now and whatever time.

“Whether there will be a deal or not is impossible to say. I think it’s going to require some key movement from the parliament in relation to those issues in order to be able to come to a conclusion,” the minister said.